Vegetarians in India are being increasingly recognized by the globalized fast-food industry.
Industry giants such as McDonald's, the world's largest fast-food company, Subway (sandwiches), Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken have been adjusting their menus to meet the local vegetarian requirements of India's consumers, while expanding their locations throughout the sub continent.
The big news comes from McDonald's, which has 271 fast-food restaurants scattered across India. They already tailor their menus to suit local tastes — which in India means no beef to avoid offending Hindus and no pork to meet the requirements of Muslims. McDonald's even has separate kitchens to prepare their vegetarian menu items. Next year they will open their first "vegetarian only" restaurant near the Golden Temple in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, Punjab, in northern India. After the opening in Amritsar, McDonald's will open another vegetarian fast-food restaurant at Katra, near the revered Hindu pilgrimage site of Vaishno Devi cave shrine, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Both holy sites do not allow meat on the premises.
McDonald's plans to double their stores in India to over 500 by the end of 2014. Worldwide, they serve hamburgers and French fries to nearly 68 million people at more than 33,500 local restaurants in 119 countries. As a brand better known for its meat-based meals, their adjustment to vegetarian tastes almost seems a contradiction. But, in a growing trend in Asia, this fast-food giant has been smartly adjusting its menu to meet the vegetarian needs of local residents.
It makes sense from a business point of view. India's 1.2 billion population is heavily vegetarian and their culture is deeply rooted in the ancient non-violence tradition of ahimsa. Most of India’s population is vegetarian to some extent, with 35% estimated to be pure vegetarians (Hindus make up 80% of the population and don’t eat beef; the Muslims don’t eat pork). McDonald's top seller is the McAloo Tikki burger, accounting for a quarter of their total sales. The burger uses a fried potato-based patty with spices.
I am reminded of that song from an old McDonald's TV commercial, "Special orders don't upset us. All we ask is that you let us serve it your way!"
Vegetarian. That's great!
We expect McDonald's will add new vegetarian menu items as it continues to recognize vegetarian consumers, and will develop products that meet their requirements.
Subway has 280 stores in India and none of them serve beef. The company already uses separate counters for the vegetarian and non-vegetarian menu items. Subway took this commitment one step further on Sept. 4th by opening their first all-vegetarian restaurant at a university in Jalandhar, a city in Jalandhar District in the state of Punjab, India. This is significant for Subway, which currently has only two vegetarian options on their menus in the United States and Europe.
Pizza Hut has had all-vegetarian stores in India since the late 90s and Domino’s has recently opened an all-vegetarian store there. Kentucky Fried Chicken, which re-opened in India in 2004 after a failed start earlier, now offers many non-meat options catering specifically to vegetarians.
All this is great news. It is fitting that the fast-food restaurants recognize their customers' vegetarian dietary requirements. However, India's increasing adoption of a Western diet raises concern about health risks for the population. Laden with saturated fat, cholesterol, and artificial chemicals—the greasy and salty ingredients typical of fast-foods cause people to get fat and sick.
With care to avoid ingredients that are bad for you, and a focus on healthy food that is good for you, the trend towards all-vegetarian fast-food can be a positive step in the right direction. We hope this trend will spread across Asia and throughout the world for the improvement of our health and the environment, and for the sake of the innocent animals.